Dos and Don’ts of Early Labor

Expectant families spend a lot of time at the end of pregnancy feeling anxious. The anticipation and trepidation of impending labor and an expanding family brings a mixture of feelings from many expecting parents. Every blip, bump, and cramp is interpreted as a possible sign that labor is imminent, and the constant living on high alert sometimes predisposes people to take too much action too soon when labor finally begins. 

A pregnant woman at the start of her labor stretches for a moment between contractions. She looks a bit nervous about the delivery ahead.

Early labor has many names: prodromal labor, pre-labor, or false labor. This is the first phase of the first stage of labor and is often the longest, lasting approximately twelve hours for a first time parent but sometimes lasting for days. Most practitioners define early labor as contractions up to four centimeters, though many other cervical changes may be happening during the early stages of labor too, so don’t get too hung up on the number. A few simple tips can help get you through early labor and get you into the best place possible for active labor.

Don’t stay up all night

Labor tends to begin at night when it’s dark, you’re relaxed, and your body knows it’s safe. It can also be really easy to want to jump into action when those first twinges of labor begin, but resting is one of the best ways to set yourself up for labor. Labor is more of a marathon than a sprint, so taking it easy and sleeping or resting while you can is going to do you more good in the long run. Early labor can last a long time, and you don’t want to start active labor already exhausted. If you really need help relaxing so you can get some sleep, taking a nice bath can help you relax and can even slow your contractions down enough for some good rest. Check with your healthcare provider, though, if you’re water has already broken.

Woman taking a bath to relax

Don’t time every contraction

Time will seem to take forever if your eyes are fixed on the clock and timing every contraction. Early labor can take a long time, and staring at the clock can make it feel much much longer. You can time a few contractions every few hours or when your contraction pattern seems to change. You’ll want to especially take note when you can’t talk through your contractions anymore or they require your full attention to cope. Even better if you can put your partner in charge of timing things so you don’t have to focus on the numbers at all.

Don’t call everyone immediately

You may have friends, family, doula, midwife, or dog sitter you need to or want to notify when labor begins. But unless you specifically need to have someone come immediately (out of town family, history of fast labors, other complications) no need to get all hands on deck immediately. Having more people in your home watching you is more likely to stress you out and slow labor down than help things. You could also put yourself in the situation where your friends and family are constantly texting and calling you for updates when you should be sleeping or focusing on labor. You should, however, follow your healthcare provider’s protocols on when to call them and when to come in. Your doula should also provide information about when and how they would like to be contacted when you are in labor. 

Don’t start all your coping techniques

You may feel excited heading into early labor and eager to finally get to use the coping techniques you’ve been learning and practicing as you prepare for labor. But, immediately pulling everything out of your bag of tricks may desensitize you to the effectiveness of these coping techniques once active labor begins and you need them the most, making active labor more difficult and may lead to unwanted interventions.  Keeping calm and relaxed in early labor is your better alternative and only using the coping techniques you absolutely need to manage contractions.



Ignore what is happening for as long as you can. Go about your day as normally as possible for as long as possible. Go to the grocery store, complete those errands you were going to run, even go to work if you feel up to it. Remember, early labor can last for awhile, and it’s best to keep as close to your usual routine as possible. So, as long as you are able to ignore your contractions, ignore them.

Woman ignoring the world around her with headphones


If you’re finding it hard to just ignore your early labor, try distraction. Watching your favorite comedy show (I wouldn’t recommend a horror film), going for a walk, or some activity that requires your full attention can be especially helpful. Many people in labor make protein rich labor snacks or freezer meals for after the baby comes. Others work on craft projects they’ve been meaning to start. During the day, going for a nice walk can provide a nice distraction while simultaneously help baby move into a more favorable position, just don’t overdo it. 


Relaxation can help you rest as well as encourage the production of labor inducing hormones. Try whatever is relaxing to you (within reason). Taking a bath is a common suggestion, especially if you’re having a hard time getting to sleep. Other suggestions can be a massage, a relaxing meal, meditation, or listening to relaxing music. A truly relaxing environment will make you feel safe and calm, which can nudge your body into active labor.

Young pregnant woman having massage in spa salon

These tips may not guarantee an easy labor, but it they will help you enter active labor as calm as and rested as possible, which will help your energy and mood.

Want some more help or support for your labor? Set up a free consultation to see how doula could benefit you and your birth.

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